Monday, October 5, 2015

Monsterpiece Theater

Throughout October, our very own Rustbelt will shock and amaze you with a series he's calling Monsterpiece Theater. This will give you a classic take on the most famous horror stories of the past and how they've fared on film. Enjoy!

Monsterpiece Theater
by Rustbelt

“…When hinges creak in doorless chambers…
And strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls…
Whenever candlelights flicker…
Where the air is deathly still…
That is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight!...”

Autumn is officially upon us. It’s the time of year when goblins and ghouls, witches and werewolves, and vampires and ghosts come out to play. Halloween is just around the corner. So, it’s time for haunted houses, candy corn, scary tales, and scary movies.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of the most famous horror stories and how some of their celluloid versions have fared. (Emphasis will be on adaptations of the original stories; not on sequels, spin-offs, or parodies.)

There will be scares. There will be surprises. There may even be a few murders. (Hey, this involves horror stories. That’s kind of a prerequisite.)

So sit back, relax, and ignore that shadow with the bloody claws rising from behind your TV. If you don’t, the Master will not approve.

- Halloween 2015 -
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Monday, September 28, 2015

Matt Damon On Diversity

Matt Damon is a leftist turd, but you knew that. He's one of the few actors whose politics is so noxious that I can no longer separate him from the roles he plays. Well, old Matt just exposed exactly how he thinks about diversity, and it ain't pretty. This is really enlightening actually.

Here's what happened. Matt Damon partook in a panel discussion on an HBO show for something called "Project Greenlight." The group is looking for new film talent and discusses projects that have been submitted to them. While sitting on the panel, a black chick film producer named Effie Brown criticized one of the projects they reviewed for having only one black character: a prostitute who "gets hit by her white pimp." She then suggested that the group better be careful who they pick to direct this project. Why you might ask? Honestly, who cares. This is what the race-baiting left does; it divides the world according to racial hypersensitivity and tries to tell the world what color everyone must be, and honestly I couldn't care less about what those racist bastards want. F-them. But that's not why we're here.

We're here because Matt Damon disagreed. Oh yes, he did. Damon responded that they should hire the best director available and that diversity "is what you do in the casting of the movie, not the casting of the show." In other words, diversity only matters when hiring the people who will appear in the film, it doesn't matter when hiring the people who will make the film. Or as others have translated this: "Actor Matt Damon has come under fire for suggesting it is important to consider diversity when casting films - but not when considering those behind the camera."


Naturally, Effie freaked out as did other perpetually outraged race baiters. Of course, they freaked out for the wrong reasons, but their howling was enough to make Damon apologize. //snicker snicker Live by the baiting, die by the baiting.

Anyways, what interests me is what Damon said. Let us use this to peer into his twisted little weasel soul. Notice two things about the good hypocrite. First, diversity doesn't actually matter to Damon. If it did, he would want diversity everywhere on general principle, not just in one strategic place. Imagine that. Here is a card carrying member of the far left, a guy who angrily advocates everything from economic slavery for other rich people to taking your stuff in the name of environmental nazism to all kinds of nasty racist crap. And here he says that diversity, the Holy Grail of leftist identity politics only matters sometimes. Fascinating. So the whole identity politics is BS after all?! Wow, who could have seen that coming? Oh, that's right. Anyone on the right who couldn't help but notice that leftists never practice what they preach.

Secondly, ask yourself why he makes this distinction between before and behind the camera. The answer is further hypocrisy. The reason he wants diversity in the ranks of those you see on film is to promote the pro-diversity propaganda. He wants Americans to see the diversity so they accept his pro-diversity view. Yet, behind the scenes, he doesn't care at all. In other words, Damon thinks it's important to push diversity onto the public through films, but away from the public, he's actually opposed to the very view he's pushing as he wants to go for the most qualified rather than the most qualified of the right race. Just like his stances on taxes, eating the rich, environmentalism and everything else, he wants his views imposed on the public, but doesn't believe they should be applied to him and his friends. He's a hypocrite. Welcome to the left.

[+]

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Film Friday: Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)

Let me be honest: this movie was made to make money and it sucks *ss... to put it kindly. I seriously wanted to climb over the bored-looking children halfway through this film and demand my money back. My napping wife said I couldn't. Then, as we hit the highly obnoxious and politicized ending, my attitude changed and I went from wanting my money back to wanting revenge. F*ck you, Adam Sandler... die in a fire. Let's get this over with.


Please, let me outline the ultra creative and interesting "plot." //rolls eyes

Count Dracula's (Sandler) obnoxious daughter marries the surfer asswipe from the first film. They have a baby named Moneygrab. Moneygrab is human (think gay), not a monster (think rotten religious types who can't stand gays). Obnoxious daughter decides that she wants to raise gay boy in California because clearly living with monsters in Kentuckyvannia is somehow wrong even though Moneygrab seems quite happy in Kentuckyvannia. So she goes to California to see if she likes it and we are treated to her rocking a trick bike at midnight in a skate park with a bunch of unsupervised awesome f*cking three-year old children, dude. Awesome. Oh, and she drinks a lot of slurpees all at once! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha f*ck you, Sandler.
Meanwhile, her father tries to turn gay boy into a monster by having each of the monsters take him into the woods and incompetently show him how scary they can be because... well, because. They end up burning down a summer camp for vampires run by a homosexual bureaucrat vampire. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha f*ck you, Sandler.

Obnoxious daughter sees this on youtube and races home to take gay boy back from the Count. They argue and then have a party where she invites Mel Brooks (Dracula's father) so the film can have a final conflict. Mel's servant HATES gays. Servant decides to kill gay boy, but suddenly gay boy turns into an invincible super monster and violently stops all the religious zealot monsters. Everything works out and the mass of contradictions turning this film into bullsh*t get overlooked! Hurray! Roll "credits."

Why Adam Sandler Needs To Be Sodomized With A Weed Whacker

This film was so bad it was insulting. I'm not kidding. As I watched this film, it became obvious to me that Sandler didn't care, either as a writer or an actor. He didn't care about the story, the characters, the dialog or anything else. Let me list this film's sins:
● First, the jokes were clearly written without the slightest interest in making them funny. They were basically lines you would expect presented in a joke format without any real reason for them to be jokes. Most brought a sense that a joke was being told but no real ability to understand what was supposed to make this "joke" funny. To give you a sense of this, consider the scene when obnoxious daughter says to the dirty Arab who runs the Kwiki Mart (yes, he was drawn to look dirty), "This place is open all night, right?" And then they show the Arab standing in front of a sign that says, "Open All Night." He then responds... wait for it... "Yes." Careful, don't laugh too hard.
● Secondly, the dialog is sh*t. Every single line is exactly what you would predict would be said at that moment. There was nothing clever or interesting. The word choice was about as dumbed-down as you could get. The sentence structure of every line was brutally simple. Most of what was said was said for the moment and did not match the plot or the character saying it... they all spoke in the same voice. I suspect they actually let Sandler (Dracula) ad lib his lines. That's the quality of what he said.

● Third, the characters are assh*les. Obnoxious daughter is obnoxious. She's the kind of character who is strongly opinionated and ignores everyone else around her because she's a self-righteous turd, but we're supposed to see her as the wise heroine. F-that. The surfer dude is a reflex character who exists solely so Dracula and obnoxious girl aren't doing soliloquies throughout the film. He's spineless, pointless, and such a retarded surfer that you feel dumber just for listening to him talk. The monsters exist to be the butt of Dracula's personal attacks. The bad monsters exist only at the end to show us how insanely hateful people who don't like gays are. The humans are all California valley/tech stereotypes that might be clever if you live in California and deal with these people regularly, but come across as simply annoying to the rest of us.

Then there's Dracula who gets about 90% of the lines. The problem with Dracula is that he's so intensely stupid and pathetic. He comes across as a 1990's television dad who needs to be skooled by his smarter daughter. He knows nothing and is constantly cowering and apologizing because he's incompetent and his beliefs are wrong and out of date; by the time of the 50th "how do I use technology" joke, you're ready to drive a stake into Sandler's liver. Oddly, Dracula actually embodies the movie's overbearing message of TOLERANCE FOR GAYS and hipsters, yet, the film wrongly treats him as out of touch and lets everyone else lecture him on how wrong he is to lack tolerance... which makes him the film's straw man character.
● Fourth, there isn't an original moment in the plot or the animation.

● Fifth, the story is a contradictory mess. So the theme is tolerance as told to us by moralizing obnoxious daughter. Yet, she doesn't care about the feelings of gay boy, her husband, or her father. In fact, she has no tolerance for their views. She even gets pissed at the humans in California because they tried to make her comfortable by showing her that many human-monster "mixed couples" already exist. This upsets her for no apparent reason that makes sense. Of course, the behavior she displays is the exact behavior she complains about in her father, who by the way had much more tolerance for both monsters and humans than she does even as the film assures us that he's closed-minded about humans. For the record, the reason she wants to move is to raise her son with his own kind (gay boys) rather than monsters. Yet, we're told the father is the bigot for wanting to raise him in a place where humans and monsters live in apparent harmony just because he hopes gay boy becomes a monster. So who's the bigot? The film tells us repeatedly that it's not her.
Then we're told that you need to be gay to be good... monsters suck, unless they are reformed to be gay-like. Indeed, the crime Dracula commits is wanting gay boy to become a monster. That is evil -- though it's not evil to want him to be gay instead of a monster. But then gay boy turns into a monster to save the day an everyone celebrates him becoming a monster. Huh? So the happy ending is exactly what the character we've been told is evil wanted. How does that make sense? How can it be evil to want him to be a monster, but the happy ending is that he turns into a monster? What's more, the evil grandfather (Mel Brooks) suddenly decides he loves people because his grandson saves the day (something Dracula or Brooks could have done without him), but only after becoming a monster. In other words, Brooks hates that he's a human, but the kid turns into a monster so now Brooks loves humans. Nonsense.

What this film is, is a 1990's hypocritical feminist film with cliche characters, nothing interesting or original, dialog generated by a retard, and an in-your-face political message that will piss you off near the ending as it gets beaten into you how evil you are for being a bigot because you won't tolerate somethingsomething hey gays! It's poorly written, poorly voiced, and utterly lacking in creativity. It was made to make money and it feels like it was slapped together over a weekend by a very cynical group who don't mind sh*tting on their audience.

Thank you, Adam Sandler... assh*le.

Don't see this film.
[+]

Monday, September 21, 2015

Guest Review: Raise the Titanic! (1980)

by Rustbelt

Okay, close your eyes for a second and picture the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word, “Titanic.” Is it the majestic, doomed liner heading out on her maiden voyage? The plight of 1,500 souls about to die in the icy waters of the North Atlantic? The eerie, ghoulish images of the rusting wreck on the muddy, ocean floor? Leonardo DiCaprio screaming “Rose!” 50 times, with Kate Winslet shouting back “Jack!” 80 times? (Yes, someone counted.) The suffering those of us old enough to have been teenage boys in 1997/1998 had to endure during theater viewing number 5 in the hopes of making out with then-girlfriend afterwards?

How about an amazing mystery/techno/espionage thriller turned into a boring, watered-down,* by-the-numbers salvage movie? If your answer is the latter…first, you need to watch better movies. And second, welcome back to Raise the Titanic!

(*- this pun, and many more like it, 100% intended!)

Image and Text Spoiler Alert
In the Beginning... (actually 63 years after the sinking...)

Clive Cussler wrote a book about a fictional salvage operation that brings the wreck of RMS Titanic back to the surface. Government investigators have learned that a rare (fictional) mineral- byzanium- was secretly mined in Russia in 1912 and smuggled onto Titanic. With this mineral, American scientists can finish the Sicilian Project: a pre-Star Wars force field that can protect the U.S. from a Soviet missile attack. (It’s named after a chess move.)

It was Cussler’s fourth novel to feature his hero character, Dirk Pitt (or the ‘American James Bond,’ as Andrew calls him), who leads the operation. However, the Soviets learn of the Sicilian Project and plan to take the byzanium for themselves- all leading to a climactic showdown on the Titanic’s risen hull. With all that, what could go wrong? Uh…

Before We Continue… Titanic’s wreck wasn’t found until 1985. Before then, it was unknown if the ship was intact or broken. Plus, oceanographers weren’t sure if corroding bacteria existed in the high-pressure, freezing waters of the ocean abyss. Therefore, Cussler’s idea of a preserved, intact Titanic was still considered plausible when he wrote his book in 1975. Anyway...

The Movie: A Truly Joyless Experience

After investigating a frozen mine, a man dressed like an Eskimo runs across a Russian glacier and is shot by a Soviet solider, who is then shot by another man, revealed to be Pitt (Richard Jordan). But we’ll call him BeardedBillPaxton. Back in the States, Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby), whose skull looks like it could burst at any time, explains the Sicilian Project to several high-raking officers (see above). Five minutes later, BeardedBillPaxton reveals that the byzanium from the Russian mine was smuggled by American miners to the Titanic in 1912. NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) chief Admiral James Sandecker (Jason Robards) and others then grant BeardedBillPaxton’s request to raise the wreck.
After getting some background information from a retired Jedi/Titanic’s last surviving crew member (Alec Guinness)- who encountered the last surviving miner on the doomed boat- BeardedBillPaxton, some boats, and a few submersibles then spend half the film (well, that’s what it seems like, at least), searching for the Big T. Finally, a cornet is found, pointing the way to the debris field and an unconvincing model of the Big T. Titanic is then raised prematurely when a damaged submersible malfunctions and gets stuck on the boat deck.

Meanwhile, the Russians get word of this and leak the information to the press. It all leads to a Soviet spy ship sending the KGB’s BaldingBillyZane via helicopter to Titanic. He menacing-though-not-threateningly asks them to leave so the Reds can pirate the ship and have the byzanium all to themselves. The Americans politely show him a nearby nuclear sub ready to attack and start WWIII and say, “no thank you. But please don’t leave without a copy of our newsletter. Bye.” BaldingBillyZane leaves.
Titanic arrives in New York to much fanfare. However, the byzanium is not in the safe, though the smiling corpse of the last miner is. (Maybe he was glad it was all just a cameo.) Sandecker says the government wanted to weaponize the byzanium, angering BurstingSkull. However, a postcard found on the corpse leads BeardedBillPaxton and BurstingSkull to Southby, England. There, they find the byzanium in the grave of another one of the original miners. However, deciding not to tip the balance of Cold War power, they leave it in the grave. Fin.

Okay. That Was Dull. What Did They Leave Out?

Glad you asked. Uh... cool plot stuff for $1000, Alex. Alex: Answer: this was cut. Uh, how about the opening scene in 1912 where the Titanic crewmember (John Bigalow) is held at gunpoint by the last surviving miner (Joshua Brewster)? Also, the lengthy search in Colorado to track the miners’ actions from evidence found in Siberia? The Soviet Captain’s plan to take the Titanic by force? Pitt’s search for Soviet agents in his salvage crew? The violent showdown between the Soviet sailors and Navy SEALs on the Big T during a hurricane? The CIA’s plan to leak details of the Sicilian Project to lure in and capture a leading Soviet spymaster?

Alex: Good. Onto Round 2. Okay. Cool character stuff for $2000. Alex: Answer: left on the editing room floor. Where’s the all-too-human president who only wants to get through his second term and retire to Tahiti? Where’s Seagram’s manic obsession with the project that drives him to permanent madness and destroys his marriage? (In the film, his wife, Dana, is just his reporter girlfriend. More in a second.) Where’s his partner-in-crime, Mel Donner? Where’s the slimy Soviet Captain Prevlov, whose plan to capture Titanic may lead to a decent promotion? Where’s Pitt’s right-hand man, Al Giordino?

This film could qualify for its own series of ‘Have You Seen Me?’ milk cartons.
In Other Words, A Whole Lotta Nothing Goin’ On

If I could sum this flick up in one word, it would be ‘boring.’ Just long stretches of padding and establishing shots peppered here and there with things that happen, but completely lack anything resembling buildup and payoff. That’s right. Nothing happens with any consequence to the plot. The audience is left not caring and why should they? Consider:

● A submersible, the ‘Starfish,’ explodes. Everyone’s sad. Then it’s back to the briny deep as thought nothing happened.
● The Soviets leak information of the Sicilian Project to the press (Why? Secrets are power in the intelligence business!), through Seagram’s girlfriend, Dana. After a brief press conference, the revelation is never mentioned again. No public outcry. No Congressional hearings. Back to the guys on the salvage vessels... boats.
● At sea, Pitt and Sandecker discuss a few crewmen who may be sleeper Soviet agents. (In the book, they really are.) Following this discussion, the plot thread completely disappears. Back to men on the
● As noted, the Russian arrival is as disappointing as finding a carton scooped free of ice cream. The scene feels like a business meeting without any true attempt at a hostile takeover. BaldingBillyZane just leaves on his chopper, with BeardedBillPaxton, Sandecker, and some extras on the risen ocean liner...boat watching him head out.
● The discovery of Brewster’s corpse in the vault is ‘meh.’ We learned nothing about him earlier (like we did in the book). Why should we care? The men onscreen stare, mope, and then get back to standing on the derelict, prized discovery, ghost ship... boat!!!
Okay, we get it! We get it! They’re on a boat! They’re on a boat! Take a good, hard look of them on the m*****f****** boat! Yeah, yeah!


Damn You, the 70’s!

In addition to taking the fun out of the story, the filmmakers felt the need to re-fit the screenplay with bell-bottoms. For one thing, when Seagram and Dana go fishing, he calls her a ‘fisherperson.’ (insert groan here) Is this because there was no chance to mention ‘people-hole covers?’

And that thing about weaponizing the byzanium (isn’t it already being weaponized? –defensively, I mean?); well, it can’t be the 70’s without a cynical plot of evil military or government men, can it? After all, Jaws had it. All the President’s Men had it. Mitchell had it. And, dammit, this movie’s gonna have it, too!

Even worse than that, Pitt was completely gutted as a character. In the introduction to my Kindle version of the book, Clive Cussler called Dirk Pitt a man of action- “a man of the 80’s in the era of the 70’s.” He’s got a fierce independent streak and has to be recruited by Sandecker into finding the ship. In the film, people call Pitt a ‘pirate.’ But just calling someone ‘Han Solo’ doesn’t make him Han Solo. In fact, Pitt acts more like a bureaucrat, shouting in offices, and being meek in the field. This role called for a tough guy of the era, like Burt Reynolds or Tom Selleck. Instead, we got Richard Jordan wearing “sweaters that say I’ve read the works of Alan Alda.” (Mike Nelson, MST3K, Episode 0903, “The Pumaman”). Good grief.

And that ending. THAT ENDING!!!! What unimaginable bastard could’ve come up with something like it?! In the book, the last thing we read is the successful testing of the Sicilian Project. (The byzanium was recovered from the grave.) In the film, we get the usual lefty notion that no one should have the advantage in anything. Everyone should have an equal chance of being killed if nuclear war breaks out. Bad Americans for wanting a defensive weapon. Bad! Détente sucks, There, I said it.
Final Thought

Just to prove I’m not a total cynic, there are three things I like about this movie. First, the scene where the Titanic breaks the surface is truly beautiful. Second, the scenes of Titanic sailing through New York Harbor are also quite nice. And finally, the film score is truly awe-inspiring. But this is a film unworthy of its score. (Much like ‘John Carpenter’s The Fog.’) Full of boredom, horrific plotting, and characters duller than contestants on post-Regis Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, this flick was a box office bomb that sank faster than the real ship. (See Jason’s Mini-Major report for the full story on what it did to ITC Entertainment.) And, God willing, its heart won’t go on.
[+]

Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Just In!!! Star Wars Related!!

Apparently, John Landis says that Disney will be releasing the original theatrical Star Wars!!

Whooooo hoooo!!
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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Film Friday: Enter The Dragon (1973)

In the 1970’s, martial arts became all the rage. There was one reason for this: Bruce Lee. Something about Lee was intensely compelling and audiences just could not get enough. When he died at the peak of his popularity, he became immortal. His peak came with Enter the Dragon, though without Lee, Enter the Dragon really isn’t a very good movie.


Enter the Dragon opens by introducing us to Bruce Lee. Lee is a Shaolin monk, of sorts, in Hong Kong. His order uses philosophy to give them greater martial arts ability, and he is the best fighter among them.
Lee is asked by British Intelligence to attend a martial arts tournament being given by Han, a drug dealer who owns his own island near Hong Kong. Han has invited the top fighters in the world to come compete and the British want Lee to join them and investigate Han’s island for missing girls. Han addicts them to heroin and then uses them as prostitutes. Lee agrees. He then learns that Han’s henchman, O’Hara, killed Lee’s sister.
Lee’s competition appears to be mainly Roper (John Saxon), an American businessman and compulsive gambler who has blown his fortune gambling and must flee the mob, Williams (Jim Kelly) a black radical who impliedly fights for the poor, and an assortment of others.

After a series of vignettes showing the fighters arriving, we are treated to one of Han’s parties. The fighters are offered food and women. Later that night, Lee begins his investigation. In the meantime, Han kills Kelly because he believes Kelly is spying on him and he offers Saxon a chance to join him. This all leads to a series of showdowns in which Saxon changes sides and helps Lee while Lee is in the fight of his life against Han and his private army.
What Made This Film Special

The Hong Kong film industry has turned out a bazillion martial arts films but few of them have ever reached any level of popularity with general audiences. Enter the Dragon is the notable exception. Enter the Dragon has become a classic. And make no mistake, it is Lee who gives Enter the Dragon its reach with general audiences and its staying power generation after generation.

Indeed, let us be honest: Enter the Dragon is a poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed mess that would be utter crap if given to another actor other than Lee. The lines are laughable. The dialog is primitive. The martial arts moments are ridiculous; they are the equivalent of wire fighting today. The acting is stiff on the one hand and Captain Kirk over-the-top on the other.
Through all of this, though, three things stand out which elevate this film. The first is Jim Kelly who is just badass. Kelly is three parts cool and one part ass-kicking machine. His tough guy appeal is the appeal of manufactured heroes like Jason Statham and Vin Diesel, only he does it without stylized close-ups, without faked whispered dialog, and without elaborate too-perfect one-liners. He is a man you don’t mess with, not a man who calls a stunt double.
Then you have John Saxon. Saxon is hard to believe as being a genuinely good martial artist, but that’s not really his role. His role is the corrupted fighter who redeems himself by finding his moral center again and then dies a martyr of sorts. Saxon is believable in this because it feels like the actor in a nutshell. Saxon is a wannabe action hero who just never felt right as a hero, and that works to his advantage here.

But Kelly and Saxon alone are not enough to elevate this to more than a B movie. That takes Lee. Lee is the reason you watch this film. He is the man who makes it real and makes it interesting. Indeed, stick any other actor in Lee’s role and this film collapses.
What Lee brings is believability first and foremost. Lee makes us believe that the fighting monks of his order are real. How? By believing his own fortune cookie lines (“don’t look at the finger or you will miss all that Heavenly glory”) are genuine philosophy and selling that philosophy as the key to a higher level of martial arts. Indeed, this film feels like you are getting a look into the actual training methods Lee used to make himself such an incredible martial artist.

He brings personality too. Lee does martial arts tricks with such cool that we believe he can do the impossible. He’s funny too. His humor is subtle, but genuine. It’s also very much “common man” humor like when he asks why someone doesn’t just get a gun and shoot Han. This makes him very relatable.
Lee also presents himself as the guy we all want to be. He knows he can’t rely on the government, so he doesn’t: “If I get in trouble, you make a phone call.” He’s moral too. He fights for the people who need help. He’s not cruel either; there isn’t a moment in this film where you think Lee will regret what he did. He takes down bullies, like the New Zealander. He’s clever, as seen in how he takes the New Zealander down.

All of this makes Lee out as a superior being with superior skills, but at the same time someone who strikes us as very much us. In effect, Lee is the person we want to be. That is why we relate to him. And when he tells us this is all real, we believe him in a way we would never believe another actor.

And that is the reason this film is remembered.
[+]

Monday, September 14, 2015

Hollywood Marketing = Fraud

Hollywood pisses me off in many ways. One of those was just done by former Spider-Man “star” Andrew Garfield. Garfield just gave an interview which makes him a lying hypocrite... and he’s hardly alone. Here’s what he said.

Garfield was the lead actor in the last two Spider-Man films, in 2012 and 2014. He has now handed off the role to Tom Holland, whoever that is. In so doing, Garfield gave an interview in which he basically ripped the films while claiming that he struggled mightily to make the films better. Saideth Garfield:
“[The mass-market aspects of making the Spider-Man films was] a bummer, especially for the group of us trying to infuse it with soul, trying to make it unique, something that was worth the price of entry.”

“The pressure to get it right, to please everyone... you end up pleasing no one, or everyone just a little bit. Like, ‘Eh, that was good.’ [The films are] mass-marketed, like, ‘We want 50-year-old white men to love it, gay teenagers to love it, bigot homophobes in Middle America to love it, 11-year-old girls to love it.’ That’s canning Coke.”

“I can’t live that way [with profit taking a toll on creativity]; it sounds like a prison, to be honest, living within those expectations.”
Ok, let’s take this crap apart. First, the idea that creative and profitable are mutually exclusive is false. That's elitist thinking which seeks to affirm its own self-identified superiority by downplaying anything enjoyed by "the masses." It is pure pretentiousness.

Secondly, his choice of words in describing Middle America as “bigoted homophobes” is offensive and asinine. Notice, that like other elitists he paints with an extremely broad brush, i.e. he stereotypes, and he disrespects differences of opinion. This is the equivalent of someone saying “those Hollywood queers,” yet he doesn't see this because he is blinded by his own self-righteousness. Basically, because he thinks that he's morally right, he views name calling and stereotyping as accept from himself.

Even more fundamentally, this shows you his view of the public. Like so many other losers who flee to a place like Hollywood to get away from the rest of us, his view of flyover country is anything but flattering. And we know this is his view because even though he suggests that this was something that is just part of marketing, the truth is that no one in marketing is going to say “We need to make a film that appeals to bigoted homophobes.” In fact, I have to wonder where this came from at all other than being a gratuitous shot at the American public? You know that no one associated with the film said this or implied it. You know there's nothing in the film that isn't entirely pro-gay either. So where would Garfield get this idea that somehow the film was made to appeal to homophobes? Well, there are two possibilities. First, he's lying so he can sound sensational. Given the left's obsession with being victims, this is very possible. Alternatively, as we know this thought was never explicitly or implicitly stated or acted upon by anyone Garfield met, he may just view all of American culture as so wrapped in homophobia that he will see any appeal to Americans (other than his enlightened friends of course) as automatically being an appeal to hompophobia. Either point make me think someone should stuff something large and sharp up his *ss.

Anyways, those aren't even what bothers me about this quote. What really bothers me is the bait and switch in which Hollywood routinely engages. When these guys make a film, they will tell you the exact opposites of the film's flaws. If a film is seen as stupid, they call it the most clever film ever. If it's seen as lost in CGI, they talk about how they focused on the story. If it's seen as betraying fans, then Garfield will tell you that he's a true fan and he'll swear that he worked hard to create something special that will appeal to fans. And that is exactly what he did... all throughout 2012 and 2014. Only now that the checks have stopped, does he admit the true. In fact, he's doing more than admitting the truth. He's basically tearing down the film and the fans he lured to see the film so that he can change his image.

This is fraud. This is a company telling you the opposite of whatever bad press they have received. You cars fall apart? Claim they are super reliable. Your appliances break fast? Call them some of the longest lasting. Half your food is spoiled? Talk about having some of the highest quality inspection practices in the industry. That's Garfield here.

And let me make a key distinction to help explain my point. Crap films happen. That's not the problem. And sometimes, people genuinely like the crap films they made. It's more than fair to have that opinion. Where the problem lies is in the sales pitch were Garfield ran around, as he was happily collecting a huge check, telling everyone things that he now claims were never true. He ran around telling everyone how hard they worked to make this film one for fans and how proud he was of it. That is a specific endorsement with specific meaning. His smug attacks now on the film are an admission that he lied the whole time he gave that sales pitch.

And Garfield is not alone in this. Everyone who worked for Peter Jackson swore that they were huge fans of the LOTR books and that they treated the LOTR books as sacrosanct and followed them nearly to the letter... even as they tossed the books aside for the most part. Nicole Kidman told audiences that she would never participate in anything anti-Catholic and that the anti-Catholic and pro-atheist Golden Compass was in no way anti-Catholic... even as the writer was telling atheist audiences the opposite. And so on. There seems to be a strain of "marketing" in Hollywood that is essentially fraud: find the thing that upsets the critics and swear the film is the opposite even though it isn't. That's fraud, not marketing. At the very least, it's hypocritical for a guy like Garfield or Kidman to tell people something about their films which they later disclaim.

[+]

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Guest Review: Network (1976)

by ScottDS

Contrary to popular belief, my personal top 10 list of movies doesn’t consist solely of John Landis comedies and Star Trek! There are actually a couple of real honest to God dramas on the list and Sidney Lumet’s classic media satire is one of them. Many consider the film ahead of its time, which is both a testament to the filmmakers and a sad comment on society today. (Though I’m as guilty as anyone else.)

The Plot

After learning that he only has two more weeks on the air due to low ratings, UBS news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) says he’s going to kill himself live on television. He’s subsequently fired but his friend Max Schumacher (William Holden), head of the news division, convinces the network brass to allow Beale a dignified exit. Back on the air, Beale goes into a fit, describing life as “bulls---,” and has to be dragged off the set. Naturally, this causes a spike in ratings and the brass decide to keep him on. This culminates in his famous “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” speech. Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), head of entertainment, manages to convince network exec Frank Hackett (Robert Duval) to slot the evening news under her division so she can develop it with Schumacher, with whom she begins an affair. She also develops a docudrama series featuring a radical terrorist group, the Ecumenical Liberation Army (a parody of the Symbionese Liberation Army).
The Howard Beale Show quickly becomes the highest-rated TV show in history. Max and Diana’s affair intensifies, causing Max to leave his wife. The affair doesn’t last as Max is eventually alienated by Diana’s emotional instability and obsession with work. Beale finds out that the conglomerate that owns UBS will be sold to a Saudi company, and encourages viewers to protest. The network brass are in a panic and Beale is taken to meet Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), head of the parent company, who preaches his “corporate cosmology” and persuades Beale to preach this new “evangel.” This causes ratings to sink but Jensen won’t allow the network to fire Beale. Instead, Christensen, Hackett, and the other brass decide to have him killed on the air by the ELA. And that’s exactly what happens. Howard Beale: “…the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

What Draws Me to This Film

I was originally hesitant to review this film. It’s a bit above my pay grade! Sidney Lumet? He directed movies for adults! Paddy Chayefsky? He was a genius satirist! The characters in this movie use ten-cent words like “encroachment”! But here we are.
The actors are excellent. Chayefsky, Dunaway, and Finch (posthumously) won Oscars, Holden and Beatty were nominated, and Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for her five (!) minutes of screen time as Holden’s beleaguered wife. Holden’s famous speech might get all the attention but I absolutely love Beatty’s speech later in the film. It’s a force of nature and the scene is lit and shot in such a way that suggests Beatty’s character might be a higher power of some kind.

For anyone who’s interested in filmmaking (or knows anyone who’s interested), I highly recommend Sidney Lumet’s book Making Movies. Lumet was never really known for any kind of visual style (i.e. he never wanted the audience to notice) but for this film, he and acclaimed cinematographer Owen Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist) decided that since the film was about corruption, they would “corrupt” the camera. The film is lit in a naturalistic style, and then gradually the lighting becomes more and more artificial until it looks like a commercial. The newscasts were shot in a real newsroom and look convincing, though I still can’t believe how primitive on-screen graphics looked back then.
[sigh] To be fair, the film can be a little shrill at times. It’s one of those movies where characters sometimes seem to talk at each other rather than to each other. And Kathy Cronkite (daughter of Walter) is cringeworthy in her brief scene as the ELA’s kidnapped heiress. The scenes with the ELA might come across as a little over the top but in a world where we treat a sex tape star as effing royalty, is it so hard to believe a network would follow a terrorist group around chronicling their horrendous deeds? Network executives will do anything for ratings.
What I find interesting is that the film holds up (an opinion shared by a vast majority of critics and viewers) but what does that say about our society? It’s eerily prescient in its portrayal of corporate media influence, larger than life media personalities peddling their wares to an (over)eager audience, and the idea of reality television. (And this was 20 years before the Internet came into our homes!) I find it ironic that, while we seem to be in a new “Golden Age” of television in terms of drama, we also seem to have sunk in terms of political discourse and making celebrities out of the dregs of humanity. Why pay for writers and sets when you can follow around a bunch of nobodies who can’t resist the lure of the bright lights? Why bother studying acting or filmmaking when all you have to do to be a star nowadays is produce cute cat videos or f--- some dude? And why send a news crew to the middle of nowhere for some hard-hitting investigation when it’s easier to bring on two talking heads to debate… and debate… and debate. And then one of them inevitably says something deemed “offensive” and the news story goes away; the news story is now the debate itself. And a week later, we’ve all forgotten about it.
This guy charts it better than I can: the typical news story lifecycle, complete with requisite outrage, outrage about the outrage, and reactions from politicians who have nothing to do with the story. (Paging Arahsay Alinpay.) Such is life in these United States. In the end, we can only hope that some kind of sea change occurs and that the intelligent and thoughtful will ultimately rise above the bloviation and hate. Sadly, there’s no money in it. And yes, the problem lies on both sides. It’s why, even as a moderate Independent, I can appreciate a conservative website like, say, Commentarama or The Federalist and decry the psycho ward that is Breitbart. And no, George Soros didn’t pay me to say that!

In his fiery speeches, Beale praised the strength of the individual and lamented what he saw as our collective dehumanization. But there’s another problem: our lack of discernment – when everything is important or revolutionary or offensive, then nothing is!

I hope we’re not too late.

“After living with you for the last six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts. Well, this is not a script, Diana. There's some real, actual life going on here.”
[+]

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer of Marvel: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

By Kit
Now we come to the penultimate film of Marvel's Phase One. This film, is not perfect, but it has a charm to it.

The Plot

The movie opens in the modern day with a group of SHIELD agents exploring the Arctic and discovering Captain America. We then flashback to about halfway through America’s involvement in World War 2 (c. Late-1942, early-1943)

The scrawny Steve Rogers is trying to join the war effort, going to recruitment centers all over the greater New York/Newark area —and is rejected by every single one of them. He is small, about 5 feet, has asthma, and an slew of health problems. He also gets into fights with bullies, never backing down but only failing to get the snot beat out of him because of the intervention of his best friend, Bucky.

Eventually, at the Stark Expo, put on by Stark’s father, Bucky picks up Clara Oswald (Really!) and Steve tries to enlist again, but is found out by Abraham Erskine, who somehow figures out about his failed enlistments at other recruitment centers —and promptly enlists him in a top secret government program and thus he is shipped off to an Army boot camp under the purview of Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones), who heads the program, and the beautiful stiff-upper-lip British Army attaché, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

In Rudy-like manner he quickly proves himself a good soldier and a good man who is brave and willing to think outside the box to find solutions. Oh, and a bit of a romance blossoms between him and Carter. (But you saw that one coming, didn’t you?)

Soon, at the insistence of Erskine, he is picked for the program and taken to a secret lab in Brooklyn where he is given a super-soldier serum and, after taking on a HYDRA saboteur, becomes Captain America —for War Bonds shows.

And is stuck there until he goes on a mission, without higher approval, with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter and single-handedly rescues a group of POWs who become the Howling Commandoes.

About the Movie

This movie is just charming. No matter what its flaws every time I finish it I just get a smile on my face, despite the sadder-than-usual ending. This movie should be utterly bland and yet, it is quite fun.

For one thing, all of the characters feel like a stock character from a 1940s war movie. Steve Rogers is the all-American boy, Peggy Carter is your stiff-upper-lip British officer crossed with 1940s tough gal, and Chester Phillips is your gruff, old American soldier. The same goes for the rest of the Howling Commandoes. Even the villains act like the cheesy villains from a 1940s movie serial or pulp magazine.

Now, this could easily go wrong and result in giving us the cheesiest, blandest, annoying set of characters but it doesn’t. Perhaps because they are so familiar we feel like we know them the moment we see them. This makes the characters, especially the Howling Commandoes, seem incredibly fleshed out. Even though they have only a handful of lines each and probably can’t remember their names without consulting a wiki. Their mannerisms, clothing, and overall demeanor tells us everything we need to know about each of them.

The cinematography, too, adds to the 1940s feel. The scenes depicting Steve Rogers are full of Norman Rockwell-esque colors and lighting.

Like all Marvel movies, this one is a live-action Saturday Morning Cartoon, and it delivers the goods in that department.

But there is one area in which this movie is a tad unique, and that is in the two leads, Steve and Peggy. Throughout the movie, as far as romantic leads go, they are ok. As a couple they are far more interesting than Thor and Jane but not as fun as Tony and Pepper.

But the end of the movie does something that takes them probably the most interesting couple in the Marvel movie universe.

Now, here I’m going to put a SPOILER warning so if you have not seen this movie or Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers 2, or Ant-Man then read no further!

If you’ve seen the movie, or, heck, the ones I just listed, then you might know how it ends. Steve gets stuck in the ice and Peggy grows old without him.

In my opinion, it is after their separation that they became really fascinating. For both of them the other represents the one chance they had for something resembling a normal life, and without each other Two people who were meant to be but never can be.

That added a dynamic to them that was unique to them and unlike any of the other Marvel movie couples. At least for now.


So, in the end, a fun, enjoyable movie.
[+]

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Film Friday: The Godfather (1972)

Back to the 1970’s! Today, I’m going to talk about The Godfather and how my view of it has changed over time. For the longest time, I wasn’t really a fan of this film. It seemed deeply flawed and dull. But I’ve since learned how to watch this movie. Interestingly, more than any other film I’ve seen except Scott Pilgrim v. The World, you need to understand how to watch this film for it to work.
The Godfather was a worldwide phenomena. Baby Boomers LOVE this film. Many of them rate it as one of the ten best films ever. Most film critics agree. I don’t. My generation got to compare it to Goodfellas, and Goodfellas is an amazing film. It does everything right. Moreover, it does everything right that The Godfather does wrong. Consider this...

The characters in Goodfellas are some of the most alive and memorable on film. I can rattle off their names off the top of my head without having seen the movie in years. By comparison, the characters in Godfather are mostly dull, slow, old and forgettable. Many of them feel like they are just waiting to die.
Moreover, Goodfellas is packed with really cool camera work that actually becomes part of the movie. All I need to say is “the mobster introduction scene” and most people will think of that amazing tracking shot where we follow young Henry Hill (now played by Ray Liotta) as he makes his way through the restaurant introducing all the mobsters he knows. This is an incredible piece of work as it goes on and on and you marvel at how the director could have set this up so the camera could weave its way through this tight club to let each of the characters introduce themselves.

Godfather has nothing like this. In fact, Godfather is shot in such an amazingly bland and straight forward manner that it has come to feel a lot like a made-for-tv movie; it suffers that it is shot in an identical style as so many of the miniseries of the time. Indeed, not only is the camera work entirely generic, but there are no risks taken with the lighting, no risks taken with the staging, and no risks taken with the soundtrack.

Compare that with Goodfellas which is the first film outside of musicals to truly integrate the soundtrack as a means to light up a scene and mark the passing of time, or how it uses time warps to give scenes a sense of tension (slow motion killing of Samuel L. Jackson from multiple angles) or how its characters hover in unusual places for interesting shots. Think of the bar scene where the two enemy-camps-to-be are twenty feet apart talking down the bar. Had this been done in Godfather, the characters would all be huddled together center stage. Put simply, there is nothing innovative in Godfather, but Goodfellas is innovative from start to finish.
The Godfather story simultaneously feels too dense and too shallow. It is dense because it digs too deeply into too many characters, which makes the plot feel convoluted and full of filler. Yet, at the same time, the story it tells overall feels very narrow. It feels like it is only barely touching on the mafia world. Goodfellas, by comparison, has a driving plot – the life of Henry Hill, it disdains filler, and it weaves the world of the mafia perfectly into the story through the plot and the narrative. The result is that Godfather feels dull, ponderous, and unfulfilling, whereas Goodfellas feels like a wild ride that comes to a shocking conclusion.

So Godfather sucks, right?

Well, no. Godfather is a decent movie. It’s not special enough that I would mention it here except that this is one of those that has a reputation which requires any film buff to see it. But it is a decent movie.
The key to enjoying Godfather is knowing what to look for. When you look at the film from the outside, it seems to be the story of the fall of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) mixed in with his replacement by his son Michael (Al Pacino) and how the family handles that. But that’s not a good way to see this film. If you try to understand the film in that way, it lacks focus and much of it feels like fake drama.

The way to enjoy this film is to understand that it is the ironic story of Michael. Michael is presented initially as a sensitive soul who disdains the murderous ways of his family and seems like he would be the savior of his family if only he were in charge. Unlike Vito, who seems tradition bound in a modern world, Michael is modern and practical. Unlike his hothead brother Sonny (James Caan), Michael comes across as a man who would never drag the family into pointless vendettas and can rationally solve any crisis. The only knock on Michael is that no one is sure he has the strength to issue ugly orders that may need to be issued because he is such a sensitive soul.
But events slowly thrust Michael into the role of head of family. Vito is nearly killed for refusing to embrace the modern world. Sonny is killed because he’s a hothead who doesn’t even know when to lay low. What’s more, the family finds itself betrayed by those who hide behind the family’s tradition of loyalty.
Finally, we get Michael. He’ll save the day, right?

Well, when Michael takes over, he brings an analytical approach that at first rubs the others wrong. It seems like Michael will now get the chance to modernize the family and end the vendettas. He will run the family with logic and dispassion. Only, this doesn’t seem to work. His logic comes across as weakness and it seems like Michael fails to recognize that the other mobsters are truly despicable people who will forsake their own good for the things that Michael has rejected.

But logic is not static. And once Michael understand this, his dispassionate logic tells him to kill everything that stands in his way, without mercy or remorse. In so doing, he splits the family and becomes the brutal tyrant who has ruined his life by becoming everything he hates. We know he can never be happy again, nor can anyone else in the family. We also know that his actions will eventually destroy the family.
If you understand the movie in this manner and watch for it, then the plot will move much more smoothly and the things that seem random or like filler in the lives of Vito and Sonny suddenly take on meaning. And ultimately, this becomes a rather interesting character study. It’s still nowhere near as good as Goodfellas, but it is a decent movie that is worth seeing.

[+]

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Toon-a-rama: Minions (2015)

We’re taking a break from the 1970’s tonight.

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed Minions quite a bit. It was a solid movie with some good laughs and a few memorable moments. It did some clever things and it made me like the Minions even more than I did after the Despicable Me films. Now let me tell you what disappointed me, and let me do it by comparing Minions to Wreck-It-Ralph.

For my money, Wreck-It-Ralph is the best animated film in a very long time, if not ever. It is nearly perfectly written. It is beautifully drawn. And it does all the things the best stories ever do. Indeed, let me explain what makes it such a special film.
Several things make Ralph such an amazing film. What underlies them all, however, is the nearly perfect writing. First of all, the story idea is brilliant. The idea that video characters have these real lives once the arcade shuts down is super creative. The only thing I’ve ever seen with a similar concept is Toy Story, but the characters in Toy Story are much narrower because their lives revolve around being toys, whereas the characters in Ralph are more like real people, complete with neuroses and infighting and different levels of self-awareness. This makes for a much richer world with many more possibilities. They are also capable of a much wider range of emotions, which make them more interesting.

Indeed, Ralph is much more interesting than Woody because Ralph is not the archetype Woody is. Ralph is a flawed character who is unhappy with himself and must figure out what he truly believes. By comparison, Woody just needs to protect the other toys. Because of this, there is never a moment where you feel genuine emotion for Woody, but I guarantee you that you will cry when Ralph decides to sacrifice himself and he repeats the Bad Guy Affirmation with a whole new meaning to let the audience know what has motivated him:
“I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be, than me.”
Minions sadly, doesn’t have great characters. Yes, the three lead minions are funny and you like watching them, but there’s little you get out of them in the way of emotions. (The humans are, frankly, dull.) Why? Because they don’t grow. Ralph began as a villain with a hole in his soul. He tried to fill that hole in all the wrong ways and found himself a failure, seemingly doomed to be the same miserable Ralph forever. But then he finally comes to realize how to fill that hole, but doing so requires him to give up his life to save a little girl. His moment of epiphany is also a moment of tremendous tragedy. That’s why you cry.
The Minions never have that. There is no hole within them. There is no epiphany. And there is nothing to suggest that any losses they suffer matter in the least. So while the characters are fun and funny, they are ultimately emotionally empty.

Just as importantly, the humor in Ralph is just perfect. Every joke seems to fit the situation perfectly. And what helps cause that is that the culture references are done right. Cultural references have become the go-to form of humor, but few do them right. To do them right, you need to do what Ralph does.

In Ralph, the references are much more personal in nature. These references tended to be shared experiences rather than generic cultural references, e.g. recognizing the way characters slid along walls on the PS2 or the secret code on the Coleco or the difference between low rez and high rez worlds. All of those were things that gamers got because they were things we laughed about along the way. By comparison, bad films simply provide cultural references that anyone can get from watching a History Channel or MTV show about the particular period. They are the most obvious iconic moments of an era, so everyone can get the joke, but they means nothing to anyone. The Ralph references, on the other hand, invoke the hours of game play we experienced and the things we laughed about with our friends. It is the difference between a loving trip down memory lane versus a dull read through a history book.
Minions, unfortunately, is full of these generic references. For example, the film takes place in the 1960’s, so you will see a reference to a much referenced Beatles album cover. You will recognize it immediately, as will everyone else, but it will have no personal meaning to you. What’s more, these references aren’t even tied to the story in any meaningful way, they just appear. It’s a lot like a David Letterman joke where he makes some reference, smirks like a jackass, and let’s his gullible audience pretend that he told a joke when all he really did was make a reference... the Emperor’s New Clothes phenomena.

Ralph never does that. Its references fit the action perfectly and they always result in a punch line. They become how the point to the scene gets across, rather than just appearing as an aside.
What’s more, the jokes in Ralph are deeply layered. Consider the line where Ralph angrily denounces Pac-Man as “that cherry chomping dot muncher.” To kids, the visual speaks for itself as Pac-Man eats dots and cherries; indeed, Ralph has previously stolen a cherry from him. But adults also recognize this as a double reference to giving oral sex to a female... something the kids will never get. Notice too how perfect the reference is too that it describes Pac-Man entirely accurately yet uses virtually the exact words used for the oral sex reference. This reference is so perfect that it’s almost as if Pac-Man’s choice of foods was intentionally chosen to make the sexual reference. That is inspired writing!
Putting all of this together, in Ralph, you can laugh at the reference, if you get it, or at the joke if you don’t. And if you get the reference, then you can also enjoy the cleverness of how they worked the reference into the story, how they often twisted it slightly to fit the film, and the cleverness of how they turned the reference into a joke the kids get even if they don’t get the real reference. That’s a lot of humor packed into each joke. Minions had none of that. You either got the reference or you didn’t. There was no joke to go along with it, except that the Minions inserted themselves into the reference. There was no dual meaning either, with maybe only two exceptions (both visual jokes). Ultimately, the difference because of this is that you will laugh for many reasons at everything Ralph pokes fun at, whereas you will just recognize the things Minions references but you will feel no attachment to them.
This is what bothered me. Minions was fun and interesting, though it had the air of an Austin Powers copy, but it was ultimately very shallow and unsatisfying. It was good, but not great with only a couple memorable moments and nothing that raised emotions. Ralph on the other hand, grips you, makes you smile, digs deep into your memory and pulls out strong emotions.

Studying Ralph could have helped Minions a lot.

[+]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Film Friday: The Sting (1973)

The Sting is one of my favorite heist films, though I can’t honestly say that it holds up today as a heist film. For that, it is too slow, too simple, and too obvious. What makes this film such a joy to watch despite this, however, is watching Paul Newman, Robert Shaw and Robert Redford try to outwit each other.


Robert Redford is Johnny Hooker, a small time grifter during the Great Depression. As the story opens, Redford cons a man out of the money he is carrying. It turns out to be $11,000. Even worse, it turns out that the money belongs to crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Lonnegan kills Redford’s partner in retaliation and sends out his winged monkeys to kill Redford.
Redford flees to Chicago, where he meets Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). Newman is a once-great conman who is now hiding from the FBI. Redford and Newman decide to work together to pull off a phony off-track betting scam known as “the wire” to get even with Lonnegan.

How this works is that Redford will entice Lonnegan into the scam by pretending that he works for Newman. Newman is running an illegal off-track betting parlor. But Redford has a way to supposedly defraud his boss Newman, by getting the results of the races phoned to him by a Western Union employee before the race gets called over the radio. How exactly they will use this to trap Lonnegan and then to escape his clutches, I will leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say that there are many twists and turns and many of the characters you are shown turn out not to be who they claim to be.

Why This Film Is Worth Seeing

It’s actually difficult to tell you why The Sting works. The reason for this is that The Sting worked for a different reason in 1973 than it works today. Let me explain.
Heist movies are rather a specialized set of films. What you need are the coolest actors of the generation, some sort of scheme that sounds impossible except for the extraordinary expert skills of the “good guys,” a bad guy who is bad enough to make the “good guys” (who are usually shady thieves) seem nice, and a lot of twists. Fortunately, you can cheat on all of this and your audience won’t care, so long as everything is hyper-stylized to be as cool as possible.

In 1973, heist films were still relatively new and unsophisticated. Prior to this, you had films like Ocean’s 11 (1960) which followed this formula, but the twists were mild, and The Italian Job (1969), which wasn’t stylized and didn’t really have the kind of cool cast typical of modern heist films. The Sting was really the first film to put it all together, and in 1973 this film must have seemed amazing. For the first time, you had a cool cast of near-superhero conmen, a villain you truly hated, a cool stylized plot, unforeseeable twist after twist (at a time when twists were rare), and an iconic soundtrack. That is why this film was so popular.

Over time, however, heist films have become much more sophisticated. The schemes have become more complex, the twists have become tighter, and as a whole, these films have adopted a much faster pace and greater energy. Compared to modern twist films, The Sting feels slow, simple and lazy.
But the thing is, this film stands up in the modern era for a different reason. What makes The Sting work today is the relationship of the characters and the performance of the actors. Newman is amazing as the ultra-cool conman. He’s so good in this role that he stands up there with Frank Sinatra in the pantheon of cool, and watching him on screen keeps making me wish he had made more movies. His relationship with Redford, which continues here from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, shows amazing chemistry.
Newman and Shaw have equally amazing chemistry, though it’s more anti-chemistry. Indeed, Shaw is pure menace and he and Newman truly come across as if they hate each other. What’s more, Shaw does such a good job of making you hate him with little things like being huffy and snippy, that you come to loath him on a personal level and you want to see him brought down. You relish seeing him tricked.

Redford is really good in this too, though he shows again that he is a lightweight compared to Shaw and Newman. He is the pretty boy actor of his generation next to two of his generation’s finest giving some of their best performances. Fortunately, as with Three Days of the Condor where he played a perfectly fitting role of an outmatched amateur, here he plays the perfectly fitting role of the arrogant grifter who doesn’t realize how far out of his league he really is. In other words, the role fits him, which lets his acting style work.
It is the relationship of these three and how they keep gaming each other throughout which makes this film such a joy to watch. It’s not the scheme, which is rather simplistic and somewhat dull once you know the twists. It’s not the feel of the movie itself either, as what was stylized and cool in 1973 feels almost made-for-TV lame today. But the tricky interaction of these amazing actors is just not something you can find anywhere else nor can you find it duplicated anywhere else.

That is what makes this film such a classic.

[+]